Kiwi go again!
The Sky Sports commentary team are, for once, all in agreement...
By James Root & Stephen Mills. Last Updated: 08/07/08 2:48pm
A busy summer of Test cricket on Sky Sports kicks-off with England taking on New Zealand in a three-Test series before the South Africans arrive.
First Test, 15-19 May
Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Click here for live listings
Having come from one down to take the series 2-1 in New Zealand two months ago England will be aiming to build on that win with the Ashes just 12 months away.
But New Zealand are looking to rebuild following the retirement of skipper Stephen Fleming with many new faces looking at this series as the perfect opportunity to stake their claim for the future.
The first Test begins on Thursday at Lord's and with the return of Test cricket to your screens comes the return of the Sky Sports commentary team!
skysports.com caught up with Messrs Atherton, Hussain, Lloyd, Botham, Gower, Willis and Holding to give us their thoughts ahead of the first Test of the summer.
Here are their pearls of wisdom...
Have the selectors picked the right squad for this series? I'm happy with it now that Andrew Flintoff's not in the squad. I say that in the sense that I felt it was too soon for Fred to come back, but I feel everybody else picks themselves. The six batsmen won't change, Jimmy Anderson is an obvious pick after nine wickets in the last game and Matthew Hoggard has plenty of experience and Test match wickets as well so I think the squad seemed to be fairly obvious. Saying that, I feel the selectors are right to go with Jimmy as he's the man in possession and Hoggard was perhaps the least penetrative of the bowlers in the England Lions match.
Who are the New Zealand danger men? There's only three of them - Jacob Oram, Brendon McCullum and Daniel Vetorri are the three class players who stand out a mile in that team. All three have a history of good performances in Test match cricket, they have experience and they bring match-winning potential to the side.
Who would you pick out as the key man for England? I think the New Zealanders will be worried about Ryan Sidebottom after he took a lot of wickets against them in the winter - 24 in total. He's a man in form and he's had a very good start to the season so I can't see any reason why he won't carry on all that good work. He really can be a danger.
Series prediction? England to win comfortably, it'll be 2-0 or 3-0 depending on the weather. Obviously they'll have to play well to win, but if they play to the top of their game there's no reason why they can't beat this New Zealand side. The conditions should suit England and New Zealand's young, inexperienced players could find it hard work.
Have the selectors picked the right squad for this series? I don't think there was too much argument really, it was always going to come down to two issues for selection, the first being whether to recall Andrew Flintoff and the second on who to play: James Anderson or Matthew Hoggard. I wouldn't have picked Flintoff even if he was fit - and even if he was getting a few runs also - as I believe he needs at least three months competitive cricket for Lancashire. Regarding Anderson or Hoggard, the selectors are right to go with Anderson because of continuity. It was very harsh on Hoggard to be dropped in New Zealand as he's a fantastic cricketer - he ran through brick walls for me when I was his captain and I would have always had him in the team. But once they had made that decision to leave him out and with Anderson performing well in the second Test, taking seven wickets, and with him bowling consistently for Lancashire, you would have to stay with Anderson.
Who are the New Zealand danger men? McCullum and Vettori - a good leader who has clever plans in the field - will be the main threats obviously but Jamie How is also a talented batsman. The bottom line for New Zealand is that they have got to get runs. If they put runs on the board they'll be competitive. They have a decent bowling line-up, no more than decent. But as we saw in the last two Tests in New Zealand, if it swings around a bit their batsmen weren't experienced enough to cope with that.
Who would you pick out as the key man for England? I would pick out the England batting line-up. All of them need to take their game to a different level. They are all fantastic players, but looking beyond this series, at least two of them need to step up. They have all stayed at a similar level and a few of them need to stand out from the pack. I would like to see Michael Vaughan have a blinder of a series and stamp his authority on the side, he's a fantastic captain and a fantastic player. It's always important that your captain is doing well.
Series prediction? The sun is shining at the moment but rain is forecast for the weekend and you just never can tell at this time of year, so I'll go for 2-0 England.
Have the selectors picked the right squad for this series? I see no reason to make any changes to the team. Even if he had been fit, I wouldn't have played Fred until the South Africa series. It will be better for Fred to play county cricket and I'd like him to go and get lots of overs and miles into his legs and some runs under his belt. I wouldn't rush him back into the Test team, I'd give him time to get bedded back in and get his confidence back.
Who are the New Zealand danger men? Brendon McCullum is always a danger, a batsman who can change the game very, very quickly. He's a very dangerous player. Ross Taylor is a gifted middle-order batsman who will come in at three or four for them. Those two guys will be the ones that England need to watch out for, and of course the captain, Daniel Vettori - a good bowler.
Who would you pick out as the key man for England? The England bowlers. Everyone talks about the batsmen but for England to win matches the bowlers need to take 20 wickets. I'm enjoying Ryan Sidebottom's success at the moment, he's playing the best cricket of his life and he's England's best bowler, I expect him to have a good series.Series prediction? England will win the series, New Zealand have some new faces and will take some time to settle in, so England have got to be red-hot favourites. Whether it will be a white wash I doubt it, as it's not likely to stay dry for that long in May and June.
Have the selectors picked the right squad for this series? I'm completely happy with it and I think everybody would have picked those 12 players for this Test. I think England are right to go with James Anderson ahead of Matthew Hoggard because Michael Vaughan said last time out in New Zealand that he wanted more energy in the team. They won two matches with this team and they got that energy.
Who are the New Zealand danger men? None of them. Brendon McCullum is their best player and I think he's brilliant to watch, but they need a team and I think they'll struggle against England. They've lost Stephen Fleming and England will have to be careful against Daniel Vetorri but there should be no real problems in that New Zealand team for England.
Who would you pick out as the key man for England? Michael Vaughan. I think it's important that he scores some runs against New Zealand because a few people are suggesting that he's not the player that he was. He's not going to be over-taxed against this attack, so he should have a great opportunity to get some high scores and put one or two things to bed. That will be very important for England.
Series prediction? Weather permitting, England will win this 3-0. I simply don't see us having any problems at all.
Have the selectors picked the right squad for this series? As expected the selectors have left the team as it was in New Zealand, although the only thing I might have done was to change Matthew Hoggard for James Anderson. If Andrew Flintoff had been fit enough to play then maybe he would have been in the team ahead of both of them, but it would have been an interesting decision. I would like to have seen him score a few more runs for Lancashire first.
Who are the New Zealand danger men? I'm not sure the word 'danger' can be applied to many of them. Ross Taylor had a good series against us in New Zealand and they're going to need him to bat well in this series. Somebody like Jacob Oram is important to them, Brendon McCullum and Daniel Vetorri also. If they're going to have any chance of surprising everybody with a win then Chris Martin and Kyle Mills will be important too.
Who would you pick out as the key man for England? I don't think it hinges on any one person for England, but the one man who really needs to get some runs is Michael Vaughan. I sympathise with him in the sense that it's been very frustrating for him these last few weeks because he's been trying hard to get some runs to get people off his back. It now looks like he's going to have to get those runs in the Test match, but knowing the sort of player he is, there's no reason why he can't do that. However, it does get harder the longer you wait for your first decent score.
What's your prediction? If the weather's kind we should win it 3-0, though I think the score is meaningless.
Have the selectors picked the right squad for this series? As an outsider looking in, I would say that the squad is about right for the players that are available. This is an important series for England as they have not been very consistent in recent times, so it is very difficult to say that they are progressing. They need to show a bit more upward mobility but certainly winning a series away from home as they did in New Zealand is helpful. You would like to see a bit of pace in the attack like a Harmison in the team but I can understand why he hasn't been selected. They have experience with Hoggard there, Sidebottom has been doing well since he came in - far better than I expected him to do. Then there are the youngsters in Broad and Anderson, Broad is a lot younger and less experienced than Anderson, but they are both up and coming fast bowlers. There is a bit of balance there and then of course there is Monty Panesar, so the bowling is in reasonably good hands.
Who are the New Zealand danger men? Tim Southee, who I'm told is a promising 19-year-old quick bowler. In actual fact, I haven't seen him bowl a ball but I have heard so much about him and his numbers and figures certainly look good. I'm looking forward to watching him perform - anyone who has a bit of pace I always like to see in the game.
Who would you pick out as the key man for England? Kevin Pietersen. He needs to be a lot more consistent, he has too much talent - his recent scores just don't add up to the talent that he has, in my opinion anyway. He needs to be making a lot more runs than he has been making. What I would like to see also is Ian Bell maturing a bit more with his batting, he has a lot of ability and all the strokes but perhaps he hasn't really learnt enough about building an innings and batting for long periods. Hopefully this summer he will mature and show that he is capable of batting for a day and a half.
Series prediction? I expect England to win reasonably comfortably. I don't think it will be a walkover, but in the long-run England should produce the better cricket. It is possible for New Zealand to win one of the three Test matches. Ross Taylor and Brendan McCullum could get some big runs and Southee could destroy England in a particular innings which would go some way towards winning a Test match, but I don't see them doing that more than once.
Have the selectors picked the right squad for this series? I believe so, the selectors have rewarded the guys who came back from one-nil down in New Zealand. And Hoggard deserves to be included in the 12 because of his county performances this season, as does Anderson. It's a shame Flintoff broke down again as he is potentially England's most potent bowler as the short-coming for the attack without him is that if the ball doesn't swing then the likes of Sidebottom, Hoggard and Anderson will have to work harder for their wickets.
Who are the New Zealand danger men? Clearly McCullum is a dangerous player with the bat but you can't really bat Twenty20 style in Test cricket. I would identify Jacob Oram as the man for England to watch out for. I think he will have to quite a bit of batting for New Zealand as the inexperienced middle order are bound to vulnerable on their first tour.
Who would you pick out as the key man for England? All the batsmen need to stand up and be counted really, they all average 40 but they're not particularly convincing. I would say that it's a crunch series for Michael Vaughan and I think that Stuart Broad's development is vitally important with the Ashes coming up next year.
Series prediction? 3-0 England, weather permitting.